All businesses, whether it be an industry, hotels, retail outlets, automobile brands or credit card companies, need customers, more so recurring customers. The airline industry is no different. A decade ago, there was a global economic turbulence that forced the airline industry to transform itself in order to stand on its own feet. Currently there is a growth in airline brands operating from different parts of the world resulting in intense competition. Multiple carriers entice passengers to fly their airlines and offer different motivations to retain their patronage.
- Survival of the fittest
In times of intense competition where there are many players in the field, airlines are striving hard to show their value in order to enhance and retain customer loyalty. Pricing, service, in flight experience – all make a difference in a passenger choosing an airline. Since many airlines are vying for the same passengers, there should be something special for a passenger to choose your airlines. Marketing strategies revolve around attracting the maximum clientele and more recently, focus has been laid on customer retention. This is where customer loyalty programs come into play.
- Rewarding loyalty
Customer loyalty programs are offered by all airlines in various forms. The aim is to enhance satisfaction in customer relationship where the flyer feels he is getting best value for money and that his patronage is valued. These Customer loyalty programs have been around since 1990 and are seen to increase business by over 25 percent. It then makes great financial sense to invest time, budget and effort to offer clientele a great loyalty programme. Recurring customers strengthen the business and reduce the effort needed to woo new ones. A lot of research is going into customer retention programmes , not just in the airline industry but across the business spectrum.
- Building a strong relationship
The first step in building a strong customer loyalty programme in is engaging the customer in a meaningful communication. They should be made to feel special and that their patronage means a lot to the airline. Right from the time the first contact is made to purchase a ticket, the customer relationship should be respectful and courteous. Loyal customers mean a constant source of revenue and so are very important to the airlines. When the customer is made to feel special and that his business is important to the airline, there is more chance that they will be a repeat customer.
- The more you fly, the less you pay
Customer loyalty programmes offer many enticing benefits to repeat passengers. Passenger volume is required to increase revenue and so the passenger who flies the most frequently has to be retained through special loyalty programmes. The most common being a Frequent Flyer benefit, where every time you fly with an airline, you get a certain number of points in your kitty which you may redeem the next time you fly with them. It may be in the form of tickets or upgrades. The fliers who choose Business class get a more robust rewards scheme. However, the largest chunk of travelers are in economy class and airlines are making an effort to reward these fliers too. Of late there is an increase in the availability of premium economy class which have enhanced features and are offered to frequent fliers of economy class. Wider seats, more armrests, footrests, mood lighting and other such features enhance in flight satisfaction.
- Special benefits for the loyal customer
Apart from frequent flier miles or status miles, customers get special privileges like joining an exclusive club, use of the special lounge at airports, extra free baggage allowance, refund on cancellation or rebooking. Customer loyalty programmes bestow on return passengers in the frequent flier programme web check in, special check in counters, early entry and exit, which makes them feel special. They can also choose the seat of their choice. Every interaction with the customer is personalized and airlines make use of machine learning to study the interests and financial behaviour of the client and from that carve out a special approach to ensure that they are better provided for. It remains to be seen how far some airlines can go to retain customer loyalty and how much revenue they can allocate for a rewards programme. The airline will also study which passengers are likely to fly frequently and not just be one time fliers and put more effort in retaining them.
- Partnering benefits
As a part of customer loyalty programs, airlines are also partnering with banks, hotel chains, restaurants and credit card companies to reward customer loyalty. The rewards are in the form of discounts and cash back through their partners.
- Soliciting customer feedback
Flying is synonymous with delays, lost baggage and missed connections. There are a lot of pain points when one flies and that negative experience colours the choice the next time the passenger needs to fly. One of the most important components of customer loyalty programs is taking feedback. At every step of engagement, feedback has to be taken from the customers. They should be given an opportunity to express themselves, especially if they are dissatisfied. If you know how your customer feels, it will help you understand if they are going to come back to you. If they have had a bad experience or service, it is even more important to know about it, address it and rectify the problem at the earliest as the reputation of the airlines is at stake. If the airlines reach out promptly and apologizes for a bad service or a delay in flight, there is every chance that the passenger will feel placated and even consider returning.
As the skies open up to multiple players including multiple low cost airlines, more and more people are choosing to fly and it is imperative to solidify passenger loyalty through positive experiences and be alert to concerns and sort them out immediately.